We had heard from other RV friends that the Gorge Harbour Marina Resort and RV Park had new owners and a new facelift and we wanted to see for ourselves.
Known for its beautiful sandy beaches, thriving artistic community and plentiful wildlife, Cortes Island is situated at the entrance to the ocean paradise of Desolation Sound. In our opinion, this tranquil and friendly island is one of the most impressive of the Discovery Islands, with its placid lakes, beaches, and rugged gorges.
Cortes Island (pronounced Cortez) was named after the Spanish conqueror of Mexico, Hernando Cortes. The Spanish cartographer, Valdez, who charted these waters in 1793, established this unlikely link. The Spanish never settled the area, but Cortes and other Spanish names remained.
Located between Campbell River on central Vancouver Island and the mainland coast of British Columbia, Cortes Island is about 16 miles long, 8 miles wide and 13,000 hectares in area and features an intricate coastline mix of rocky coves and sandy beaches. The southern half of Cortes lies in the rain shadow of Vancouver Island, creating a drier climate than the northern half of the island and higher than average sunshine for the area. The island currently has about 900 full-time residents, and most live on the southern portion along with Arbutus and Manzanita trees that cling to the bleached granite bluffs.
We had heard from other RV friends that the Park had new owners and a new facelift and wanted to see for ourselves. We decided to head off in our side-sliding fifth wheel trailer to spend three or four days at this new resort. We traveled to Campbell River on Vancouver Island, took the 10 min ferry ride to Quadra Island, drove for 15 min. and took another ferry from Heriot Bay, 45 minutes to Whaletown, Cortes Island. From here it is only a short drive to the resort campground.
Dr. Richard and Michelle Glickman, proprietors of the Gorge Harbour Resort, purchased the resort five years ago. The resort is an important part of the community, providing locals and boaters with groceries, boat and car fuel, water and even social activities. It is also one of the largest employers on the island.
?We believe that tourism is an important part of the coastal economy and worked hard to provide public access to a safe, high quality facility,? states Dr. Glickman. The resort?s lavish surroundings include an outdoor swimming pool, hot tub, spa, and a tranquil decorative pond to stroll by. In addition, four guest rooms are available for those needing additional sleeping space.
The Resort covers seven and a half acres of treed green space with over thirty sites along the waterfront of Gorge Harbour. The campground is in an old apple orchard, attracting visits from resident deer. Each site has full hook-up, a level concrete pad, wooden deck and picnic table. Tenting sites have tables and fire pits.
Once we were settled in our space, we meandered along the footpath to buy fresh fruit and veggies at the Gorge Harbour Marina store. The convenience store has an expanded local fresh organic produce section, dairy products, frozen meats and a liquor outlet. While you shop you can stock up on emergency supplies, fishing tackle, postcards and souvenirs.
There is gas, diesel and propane at their fuel dock, power, water, pay phones, showers, and laundry facilities. Everything you might need to make your stay comfortable and enjoyable is available here, including DVD rentals and wireless Internet.
Along with the RV park and campground there is a beautiful marina for cruising boats. There are small cabins for rent, kayak and scooter rentals, a small launch ramp, and float plane service if needed. A large covered gazebo in the campground area, complete with fireplace and tables, provides space for guests to host potlucks, happy hours, barbeques or family reunions. The water?s edge campfire and barbeque site is a great spot to gather at the end of an eventful day to roast marshmallows, watch the sun go down and debrief the day?s activities.
The following day, after breakfast we prepared our picnic lunch and beach apparel for a bike ride and hike to Hague Lake near Manson?s Landing Marine Park. We peddled along Whaletown Road and then turned right onto Gorge Harbour Road and then right again onto Seaford Road.
Manson?s Landing is a Provincial Marine Park and accessible by car. The parking lot at the top of the wharf is busy with people just wanting to picnic there or unload kayaks and have a peaceful paddle around the area, perhaps a short paddle along the western shore line of Cortes to Shark Spit for a day on the beach or several days away to camp along the sandy shores.
The Salish name for Hague Lake is Kw?as Oyela, which means ?hot water (lake)?. This is very appropriate as Hague Lake is flat bottomed and shallow (35-50 ft) and warms up quickly in the summer as well as freezes first in a cold spell.
Park signs guide your way to the lake and there is a short walk down a path to a white sandy beach with crystal clear blue warm water. The beach at Hague Lake is great for small children as it has a slow drop-off with little or no underwater weeds or sticks to interfere with their fun.
Close to the path most people set up their ?day camp? so they don?t have to carry all their lawn chairs, kids and toys very far before relaxing and soaking up the sun. We walked farther north where there are small nooks and crannies you can claim as your own and have relative privacy. A few people walk still further along the beach or trail to a ?clothing optional? area to enjoy a different kind of seclusion. Several young people passed by and said a quick hello on their way to find a spot to throw their towels down and start swimming for the rock cliffs a short distance across the lake where they dive from the sunny ledges.
As soon as we placed our towels and bags down on the white sand we headed into the water to cool off after our bike ride and as my husband Rick was kneeling in the soft sand, taking in the scenic surroundings, he felt something nibbling at his knee! He looked down and saw a friendly little guppy that he then gently scooped up so I could take a picture.
We had a great afternoon of sunning, sipping and surveying all the comings and goings of the other locals and tourists enjoying this ?Little Tahiti? location. After much fun in the sun we packed up our bikes and headed for home. We stopped in Manson?s Landing for an ice-cream cone at the Cortes Market before peddling back along Seaford Road. We had a slow ride back and enjoyed a barbeque and a quiet night after a fun filled day in and along the water.
The next day we rented kayaks from the Resort and headed for Shark Spit, just a short paddle outside the Gorge Harbour entrance. It is a good idea to be aware of the tides before setting off in kayaks as the current can at times reach four knots through the narrow opening exiting the harbour. It could be hard going for kayakers if the current was not in your favour. The manager of the resort, Bob Dougal, is most helpful and can give tide information to you before you depart.
As we paddled through the narrow ?gorge? entrance we were told to keep a close lookout for pictographs said to be found on the steep rock face. Today was our lucky day. There clearly was a human head with standing up hair and a human shape painted in a red rust colour on the rocks. It was painted in the right angle corner formed by a large gray rock on the northwest side of the gorge half way up the rock face and about half way into the narrowing.
Once through the narrow entrance it is on past Heather Islets and Guide Islets and a short paddle to the sandy shores of the spit. Shark Spit, so named because the tidal effect has arranged the sand to resemble the shape of a shark?s pectoral fin, has an extensive driftwood, clam and oyster beach. The low-lying spit is thick with live sand dollars of every size. It is a popular place for yachts to day anchor on sunny days and go ashore to collect from the oyster and clam rich shores or enjoy a relaxing day sitting on the beach.
As the tide comes in during summer afternoons, the sun-soaked sand and rocks warm the water, making it the ideal temperature for swimming or snorkeling. Leisurely beach-combing walks along the sandy shoreline could quite well be rewarded with sightings of seals, sea lions, bald eagles, great blue herons and an abundance of seabirds. Just above the beach there are clearings in the trees with picnic tables and campfire pits to roast hotdogs and spread out your picnic feast while watching the comings and goings of the island ferry and boat traffic from nearby Whaletown.
After much fun in the sun and beachcombing, we packed up our gear into our kayaks and headed for the dock at the marina. We enjoyed a leisurely paddle back to our home away from home and stopped at the marina to chat with the boaters that were also enjoying the sunny weather.
After a lovely day at the beach we decided to reward ourselves with dinner out. The resort?s Floathouse Restaurant is fully licensed and features fresh seafood and Westcoast cuisine offered either indoors or out overlooking the harbour. The restaurant has received great food reviews and boasts a sumptuous Sunday brunch. Our meal was delicious and the price very reasonable. The gorgeous view over the harbour was free of charge.
After supper and a short stroll around the pond, we climbed into our bathing suits again and enjoyed a relaxing swim in the outdoor pool and a muscle-relaxing soak in the hot tub before retiring for the night. I think I was asleep as soon as my head hit my pillow.
On our last day as we packed up our things and unplugged to leave, we decided to spend a few hours in Whaletown before climbing on the ferry bound for home. We stopped at the Old Schoolhouse Art Gallery before getting to Whaletown proper. Once in Whaletown we enjoyed the picturesque post office, the Whaletown General Store and poking around the government dock looking at the fishing boats rafted together. We took a quick browse through the church and the Louisa Tooker library before getting into the line-up for the ferry to return us home. We will have to come back again next year as we only scratched the surface of this lovely island paradise. It takes a bit of time and ferry travel to get here but it is well worth the effort.
There are a number of highlight events and festivals on Cortes Island throughout the year. The spring season is kicked off in May with a gourmet extravaganza with the Cortes Island Oyster Festival. The Cortes Garden Tour, a fundraiser for the Cortes Island Museum, is held on the last weekend in June. Cortes festivals typically feature delicious seafood, live music and displays by island craftspeople. To find out what events are coming up, pick up a copy of the Discovery Islander free throughout the islands or check it online at www.DiscoveryIslander.com.
Photos by Rick LeBlanc